College

I have frequently encountered research done on college students. It has been such that the work implies that what was done on these college students applies to everyone. I venture to say it does not.

I attended the PAS 4 conference in San Antonio a few years ago. One of the presenters had dozens of research articles about choruses on his resume. He was very secure in his statements about what “choruses do”. But when I queried him as to how many adult professional choruses he had studied he indignantly said “none”. So, why then, did his research not make it clear that the data was about college choirs only? Don’t know.

I have heard singing teachers talk about “what singers do” based on long years of observation, sometimes several decades worth, but what they are really talking about is “what college singers do” and even more accurately, “what classically trained college students do”. The differences between a college population and a professional adult population are significant and should not be ignored. Research done only on students is skewed unless the data is meant to apply only to other college age students.

Professional singers who have been working regularly for twenty or thirty years are NOT like college students. Their bodies are different, their minds are different, their skill sets are different. Without having a baseline of adult professional subjects in any voice research that is about professional level performance, no conclusions should be drawn about what “singers do”. And certainly no conclusions should be drawn about what “professional classical singers do” in contrast to what “professional CCM singers” do, because they can be vastly different things in each style but quite similar things within the style.

Since most research is done at colleges and most of the people available at colleges are students or faculty, it stands to reason that this population is the most common group on which research is conducted. It is not, however, the most representative group and that can be dangerous. College teachers who decide (based entirely on their own personal experience) that something “is” a specific way may never have a chance to test out their pronouncements in a non-college environment.

One example of this is as follows: A noted area college teacher says that women breathe differently than men. He also says the soft palate doesn’t go up. He says that because these things are what he has seen in his experience. He has not compared notes with other teachers to see if they come up with something different because he knows he is right, smarter, and better educated about such things. He is right. Scary.

I have known people who have taught at a college for 40 years. They did not teach a wide variety of people of all ages, backgrounds, types and ability levels. They did not encounter people who could barely match pitch or people who could barely stand up straight, or people who have been singing for decades professionally and now have a problem. They may not have been on a professional stage in 40 years either. It matters, because it keeps you aware of how vulnerable all vocalists are when they are singing.

So, if you are conducting research, be sure to stipulate that your population is mostly college students, if it is, and that they are classically trained, if they are, and make sure your “conclusions” are for college aged students only and not for all people. Remind yourself that long term professional singers might have very different behaviors and that you can’t judge those professionals by what you have discovered in your college populations.

A ballet dancer would not do the Swan Queen in Swan Lake at the age of 18, even if she had been taking ballet classes since she was 3 for hours every day. A vocalist is not likely to sing Brunhilde while only 18 even if she has a great big beautiful voice. A weight lifter isn’t going to go for the heaviest weights when he has just been training for a few months. All of these activities do better after the person was doing them for a long time…..years and years, even decades. When you read a vocal pedagogy article, be sure to check to see what it says. If it isn’t useful, let them know.

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